A Service for Passion Sunday

HYMN It is a thing most wonderful

 

PRAYER OF PREPARATION

Almighty God, 

to whom all hearts are open,

all desires known,

and from whom no secrets are hidden:

cleanse the thoughts of our hearts

by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,

that we may perfectly love you,

and worthily magnify your holy name;

through Christ our Lord. Amen

 

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE 

Our Lord Jesus Christ said: The first commandment is this:

'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'

The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'

There is no other commandment greater than these.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Amen. Lord, have mercy.

 

Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith, 

firmly resolved to keep God's commandments 

and to live in love and peace with all.

Father eternal, giver of light and grace,

we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,

in what we have thought, in what we have said and done,

through ignorance, through weakness,

through our own deliberate fault.

We have wounded your love and marred your image in us.

We are sorry and ashamed and repent of all our sins.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us,

forgive us all that is past and lead us out from darkness

to walk as children of light. Amen.

 

May the God of love and power

forgive us and free us from our sins,

heal and strengthen us by his Spirit

and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

 

Lord, have mercy

Christ, have mercy 

Lord, have mercy 

 

COLLECT for PASSION Sunday

Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection 

of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world:

grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross

we may triumph in the power of his victory;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen

 

FIRST READING

The Valley of Dry Bones

Ezekiel Chapter 37

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.” 

 

HYMN Drop, drop slow tears

 

GOSPEL

John 11.1-45

The Death of Lazarus

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

SERMON

Today Passiontide begins.  The word passion comes from the Latin, passio, meaning suffering; Christ’s suffering, and more, his identification with our suffering, and, in a sense, his answer to it as well. The readings above were not chosen by me for this serious and challenging time, but were those laid down in the lectionary, and, as ever, we look to see what they might mean in their own terms, and then what they might mean to us, now, in our situation and time.

The telling of the vision of Ezekiel of dry bones in a valley directs our thoughts to the question, ‘who is the author and giver of life?’ and then pushes us on to acknowledge that he who gave life also gives hope – that no community need be without hope – not even one in exile and oppression, which was who it was directed to. 

I once read Elie Wiesel’s account of his days in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, there he tells of a Rabbi who would pray all the time, reciting whole pages of the Talmud from memory – but one day he said to Elie – ‘it’s the end. God is no longer with us… Where is the divine mercy? Where is God? How can I believe, how could any one believe, in this merciful God?’  Wiesel continues, ‘Poor Akiba Drumer, if he could have gone on believing in God, if he could have seen a proof of God in this Calvary, he would not have been taken by the selection (the selection for the incinerators). But as soon as he felt the first cracks forming in his faith, he had lost his reason for struggling and had begun to die.’ Without hope there is no life. In giving life to these piles of dry dead bones God is saying that he can bring life to even these lifeless, hopeless, remains. 

In St John’s Gospel the raising of Lazarus is the last and greatest of the signs performed by Jesus. It is also, according to John, the immediate cause of Jesus’ death, for it finally convinces the religious leaders of Jerusalem that they must be rid of him.

It is an extraordinary story, told very carefully by the writer of the Gospel, and in great detail – we hear of geography, where people were, we hear of people’s feelings, we hear of their thoughts, misconceptions and beliefs – it really is a very full account. It clearly matters to John, and he uses it to convey a crucial part of what he believes.

In some ways the dramatic heart of the story is not so much Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb, but the detailed description of Jesus’ feelings and emotional state.

The famous phrase, the shortest verse in the Bible, ‘and Jesus wept’, is usually described as showing Jesus’ compassion for either Lazarus or his family, or for showing the humanity of Jesus when confronted by the finality of death and the awful sadness of loss.

The verse two verses before that one would seem to bear out that interpretation.  

‘When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.’ 

It would seem that Jesus is just very upset, natural enough one would think.  

There is, however, a problem with all that.  I won’t go into the Greek, that’s too much of a turn off, but suffice it to say that there is an alternative way to read it. Instead of ‘he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved’ we could have: 

‘he became angry in spirit and very agitated’.  

The phase is the strongest statement of Jesus’ emotions in the whole of the New Testament.  So strong indeed that English translators have consistently weakened it.

So what was the reason for such anger?  And why does it matter?  

It matters because it changes the whole emphasis of what John is trying to to tell us.  This isn’t Jesus’ compassion over the human condition, this is Jesus’ anger over the failure of those who said they believed to comprehend what that might mean.  

It is rage against the difficulty people have, even his own followers, in believing that he could transform their hopelessness into joy, and their lifelessness into everlasting life.  Hence all that talk with Martha about what she believes the resurrection to be about.  After this statement of faith Jesus doesn’t move an inch, rather he waits for Mary, who when she finally arrives repeats Martha’s complaint about his delay and then begins to weep, or rather she wails.  

And we would say, ‘why not?’ her brother’s just died.  But Jesus is no caring counsellor here, this inconsolable grief is not the way it should be.  He is resurrection and life – now - to all who will believe in him now.  The life Jesus came to bring cannot transform those who will not believe in it.  How could it, not this side of the grave anyway?  And we are talking about this side of the grave.  Jesus offers life in this life – new hope, new heart, new spirit.

And so Jesus – in this reading of the passage anyway -  is angry, inside, and then he weeps, or better to say, he cries to himself, it’s not the same word as Mary’s wailing.  And the people about him misunderstand, they think he is crying for Lazarus, and wonder why he doesn’t heal him.  

But we, John’s readers, know that he can’t be crying for Lazarus, he knows that he is about to bring him from the tomb.  And once again John tells us that Jesus was ‘deeply moved’ or as we have said, ‘angry within’.

No Jesus doesn’t weep for his dead friend, Jesus weeps for the misery of the world that will look no further than the end of its nose, and see no more than what hits it in the face.  Jesus weeps for the dead alright, but it isn’t Lazarus, it’s the dead all around him.  The dead that refuse the gift of life, that are not yet ready to receive the breath of God that will bring them to life in hope, in faith and in resurrection joy.  All they must do is to believe in him.  But that is a leap too far. 

This story is not a judgement on the sadness we feel when someone we love dies, but it is a plea for those who believe in Christ to live the joyful consequences of that faith. Not necessarily in merriment, and perhaps through tears, but nevertheless in acknowledgement that our Lord is living bread, and living water, is indeed the resurrection and the life of all who put their trust in him.  He is hope embodied, enfleshed, and will guarantee a sure hope for all who will hope in him. 

And that surely is a message for this time, as it is for all time. It is for us to live that message in the hope we offer to others, in our willingness to serve others, in our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 

Though he was divine, he did not cling to equality with God,

but made himself nothing. Taking the form of a slave,

he was born in human likeness. He humbled himself,

and was obedient to death  even the death of the cross.

Therefore God has raised him on high,

and given him the name above every name:

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

and every voice proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.    Philippians 2.9-11

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION 

Let us pray in the power of the Holy Spirit who guides and enables the

people of God, inspired by Christ’s offering of himself to the world, 

and in the hope that we can reflect his self-giving love.

We pray for all affected by coronavirus, through illness, isolation or anxiety; 

for those who are involved in the care of patients either in hospital 

or at home and trust that they may find relief and recovery.

We pray especially for medical researchers under such pressure 

to find a vaccine and better ways to test for the disease.

Lord in your mercy  hear our prayer

 

The decisions of the last week have meant major changes in all our lives.

With your guidance help us to accept these temporary measures and to

use our time wisely, to keep in touch in different ways and to try and help 

our friends and neighbours many of whom may now be on completely on 

their own.

Lord in your mercy  hear our prayer

 

We pray for all who are sick… in a moment of quiet we bring to you those 

known to us. Comfort and heal all who suffer in body, mind and spirit; give 

them courage and hope in their troubles; and bring them the joy of your 

salvation.

Lord in your mercy  hear our prayer

 

We are all isolated now but in the dawning of spring and with the coming of 

Easter may we take comfort in the beauty all around us, the trees, the 

flowers, the blue skies and the warm sun. These trials are temporary, 

though no one knows when they will end, but they will end. We pray that 

we come out wiser, more caring and considerate to others and our fragile

world.

Lord in your mercy  hear our prayer 

 

Merciful father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,

our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

 

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 

your kingdom come, your will be done,

on earth as in heaven. 

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins 

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours

now and for ever. Amen.

 

Lord Jesus Christ,

you have taught us that what we do 

for the least of our brothers and sisters

we do also for you:

give us the will to be the servant of others

as you were the servant of all,

and gave up your life and died for us,

but are alive and reign, now and for ever.

 

HYMN There is a green hill far away

 

BLESSING

On our hearts and on our houses,

the blessing of God.

In our coming and going,

the peace of God.

In our life and our believing,

the love of God

At our end and new beginning,

the arms of God to welcome us and bring us home. Amen

 

To End Pie Jesu